Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E minor; Dvořák Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘New World’
Bamberger Symphoniker/Jakub Hrůša
Tudor 1744 (hybrid CD/SACD) 86:33 mins (2 discs)
Brahms’s Fourth and Dvořák’s New World are such over-familiar stalwarts of the standard symphonic repertoire that the prospect of having both works together on a new release is hardly guaranteed to set pulses racing. However, to my surprise, hearing these two E minor symphonies side by side proved far more stimulating than I had anticipated, not least for demonstrating how much Dvořák owed to Brahms in the way his symphonic argument unfolds.
Exploring stylistic connections between the German and Czech composer could amount to little more than an academic exercise if the performances are merely routine. But those who have experienced Jakub Hrůša’s insightful and inspirational interpretations with the Philharmonia Orchestra will not be at all surprised at the high standards he has achieved thus far as chief conductor of the Bamberger Symphoniker. The orchestral playing is absolutely first-class, with really distinctive solo wind and brass playing matching the gorgeous Central European warmth of the strings, and Hrůša’s conception of the music is totally compelling. In both performances, emphasis is placed on achieving architectural lucidity rather than going all out for external effects. Thus, the patchwork quilt of the Finale of the New World is far more cogently expounded than in many other recordings. Likewise, the great Passacaglia finale in the Brahms manages to encapsulate both passion and introspection without losing that all-important sense of forward momentum. This outstandingly recorded first instalment in a projected cycle pairing all four of Brahms’s symphonies with the last four by Dvořák has set the bar really high, and I look forward with great anticipation to the next release in the series.